Flood recovery resources and insurance issues in the aftermath of New England flooding

New England is still recovering from the record Northeast flooding. If you missed it, you can view the scope of the damage in this gallery of dramatic Northeast flood photos. Now, it’s time to move forward. We’ve gathered various recovery resources for those who suffered damage in these floods.
Are you eligible for disaster assistance? At DisasterAssistance.gov you can apply for assistance online, or take an anonymous pre-screening questionnaire to see if you are eligible for assistance. Various other resources are available. including advance preparation for emergencies, and resources for disaster recovery.
Rhode Island
Rhode Island Severe Storms and Flooding – This page provides updated information and resources for Rhode Island residents and businesses in all 5 counties who were affected by the recent flooding. The first step in recovery entails filing for disaster recovery assistance with FEMA. As of this writing, FEMA has opened Disaster Recovery Centers in Cranston and Warwick. The site offers information from FEMA on where and how to apply for assistance, as well as links to other recovery resources. Check back for updated information.
Massachusetts Severe Storms and Flooding – This page provides updated information and resources for Massachusetts residents and businesses that were declared as major disaster areas March 29: Bristol, Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, Suffolk and Worcester counties. The first step in recovery entails filing for disaster recovery assistance with FEMA. As of this writing, FEMA has opened 5 Disaster Recovery Centers and has FEMA inspectors assessing storm damage in seven Massachusetts counties. The site offers information from FEMA on where and how to apply for assistance, as well as links to other recovery resources. Check back for updated information.
Standard homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage, so unless you have a specific flood policy, you may be out of luck. Check to see if you have a sump pump failure rider to supplement your homeowners, which may offer some relief.
Even if your homeowners policy doesn’t cover flooding, if you have experienced anything more than minor damage, you may want to file a claim:

  • When your insurer investigates the actual cause of the loss, you may have some coverage.
  • If you are eligible for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) assistance, you will likely need a letter of denial from your insurer. By law, FEMA cannot duplicate any assistance that insurance already covers.
  • Your insurer and agent may be able to suggest resources and service firms for emergency restoration professionals in your area. They may have other resources and advice available to help you mitigate and recover from your loss.
  • If you have comprehensive insurance as part of your standard auto insurance policy, you may be covered for water or flood damage to your car. You would need to contact your agent to check the specific coverage provisions in your policy.

Recovery resources

Claim handling delays and denials top consumer insurance complaints

Every year, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) collects and analyzes consumer complaints about insurance companies through a centralized electronic Complaint Database System. This week, they released a report on top consumer complaints with insurers for 2008. Almost 20,000 complaints were logged, with the top three reasons for those complaints being delays, denials of claims and unsatisfactory settlement offers. More than 73% of the complaints dealt with Accident & Health or Auto coverage.
Consumers can view 3-year trend reports of most common complaints by reason for complaint, by type of insurance or by dispositions.
NAIC also offers resources that allow you to file a complaint with your state insurance authority or to search for complaint information about specific insurers in your state.
Of course, those of us who are independent agents would suggest that one of the best strategies to ensure satisfaction with your insurance company’s quality and service is to work with an independent agent to find the best coverage options for your unique needs. All too often, consumers use price as the primary litmus test in picking an insurance company, but insurer selection should be more about finding the right combination of product, service, and price. There can be a great difference in service from one insurer to another and that can make all the difference in the world when you experience a loss and need help.

Before and after winter storms: advance planning and filing claims

With a major ice storm under our belt, many area residents are just getting power and heat back and we are facing more potential adverse weather over the weekend.

If your home has been damaged or destroyed, you may want to invest two and a half minutes to watch the Insurance Information Institute’s advice on how to file a homeowner’s claim:

Preparing for the next storm
With some advance notice, there are things you can do to prepare for winter storm emergencies. Here are a few good resources:

The American Red Cross suggests a list of supplies to include in a home emergency kit, covering such items as water, food, first aid supplies, clothing and bedding, tools and emergency supplies, and special items.

Winter Power Outage Tips – an excellent resource on what to do before, during, and after an outage compiled by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

Freezing & Bursting Pipes (PDF) – good tips for preventing frozen pipes.

Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning After an Emergency – The Centers for Disease Control inform us that every year, more than 500 people die in the U. S. from accidental CO poisoning and, sadly, here in New England, we have had carbon monoxide-related deaths after the recent storms. In Massachusetts, the law states that you must have a carbon monoxide detector on every level of your home, excluding unfinished basements, attics and crawl spaces. You may need more than one per floor because detectors must be placed within 10 feet of a bedroom door. This is good advice for homeowners whether or not your state has a law. Be sure to refresh your batteries periodically.

What happens if your insurance company goes bankrupt?

In these trying economic times, we’ve had a few people ask us what would happen if their insurer should go belly up. Because insurance laws vary state by state, there are no specific answers but we’ll give you a generalized overview.

First of all, state insurance bureaus regulate insurance matters for their state. As part of that function, they require various reports to monitor the financial health and well being of insurance companies licensed in their state. But because many large insurers don’t operate in just one state, or as in the recent case of AIG, in one line of business, insolvencies can and still do occur.

So what happens if you have a policy or an open claim and your insurance company gets in financial trouble? First, the state will work with the insurer to help solve the problem. And if that fails, the good news is that states operate Guaranty Funds to protect policyholders in the event of insurer insolvencies. These funds will pay claims, often giving priority to hardship cases. Some state bureaus also have a mechanism for short-term insurance coverage to allow insured parties to find alternate coverage. On the downside, however, claim payments may be delayed, settled, or capped.

There are also many excluded lines of insurance. Guaranty Funds usually cover auto and home and similar types of insurance, but generally have exclusions. Common exclusions include life, accident and health, annuities, disability, and mortgage. Many states also draw the line at protections for high net worth insureds ($25+ million). For specifics, you would need to check with your state law.

Should worse come to worst, your local agent should be your first and best source of information. You can also learn more about the topic at the Insurance Information Institute’s excellent overview of insurer insolvencies and Guaranty Funds. And you can find links to state insurance department websites on this map.